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Recording a TOY piano...seriously

Discussion in 'Piano' started by Paul, Aug 23, 2014.

  1. Paul

    Paul Active Member

    I've read many threads about best practices when recording grand and upright pianos but my client next week is a musical cast which involves a toy piano on some songs. Ya know, the kind you buy a kid to dink around on? I didn't see anything in here specific to TOY pianos and wanted to ask if anyone had some experience with it.

    Toy pianos vary a great deal from regular pianos obviously so I imagine the recording techniques used would vary as well. Does anyone have any ideas?
     
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    put a mic on it and go!
     
    Paul likes this.
  3. Paul

    Paul Active Member

    LOL...thanx, audiokid! I'm definitely going to do that. Are you aware of any "sweet spot"? I was just wondering if anyone had any experience with this sort of thing. I know it's only a toy, but I was thinking treating it like a percussion instrument (as pianos are). Maybe positioning an LDC near it (where ever sounds good) and then putting 2 overheads slightly above it???

    Does that sound stupid or too much?
     
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'd put it in your room, use your ears to find the location it sounds best, use the best mic(s) and start listening for mic placement. Start scratching until its the sound you want. Simple trial and error process to me.
     
    Paul likes this.
  5. Paul

    Paul Active Member

    Thanx again, man...Trial and error has been my go to method for quite awhile now; just never tried nor erred on a toy piano before. I'll see how it goes. :)


    P.S. I checked out your SoundCloud page. You are an amazing sound producer and your daughter is a remarkably gifted piano player. :)
     
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    :love:

    Thank you.
     
  7. Josh Conley

    Josh Conley Active Member

    post your results
    interest piqued!
     
  8. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    I don't think a LDC would be my first choice for a toy piano... the tone of these toys can be fairly strident at times and a LDC won't help. I would probably try a ribbon mike to help smooth things out. Lacking that I would try the time-tested SM57 dynamic mic. Just my approach, your experience will likely vary!
    ~Jeff
     
    Paul likes this.
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    That Jeff guy ain't a Deaf guy and he's right. Because of the miniature nature of toy pianos, they are already rife with extremely high upper harmonics. This will sound like crystalline death on just about any condenser microphone. And not much nicer on a dynamic.

    When Royer advertised that their microphones hear, like your ears. What they were really saying was that ribbon microphones a.k.a. velocity microphones, in general, hear like your ears do. They've been known to have a smooth, ultrasmooth sound and a smooth high-frequency roll off on the passive ribbon microphones. The active ribbon microphones sound a little more like active condenser microphones than they do ribbon microphones that are passive. So I recommend a passive ribbon microphone, into the highest quality microphone preamp, you got. Hopefully one that has a transformer coupled input? And you will get a great, toy piano recorded sound. Otherwise it will be brutal listening to, recorded from anything else. Then you can get some decent inexpensive Chinese made ribbon microphones today. That are about the only Chinese microphones I would recommend. Certainly not most of the condenser dreck they make. Good on some things. Not good on most things. Really good on good things. Good for cheap things like kids who don't have a budget for a decent $100 dynamic microphone or $160 or so Chinese ribbon microphone. Don't worry about the Chinese output transformer. It's boxy sound will actually complement the toy piano. And when you don't want to Chinese transformer boxy sound? You take a couple db dip somewhere between 200 Hz and 400 Hz or until it hurts, your sides with laughter. Sounding like a $1500 Royer when it's not and not snot.

    Toy pianos need toy Chinese ribbon microphones. That's one of the few Chinese audio recipes that works.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
    Paul likes this.
  10. Paul

    Paul Active Member

    Josh Conley - I will! Thanx!

    ThatJeffGuy - Thanx for that input

    Remy - Thanx! Is there a specific cheap Chinese mic you've used and/or would recommend?
     
  11. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    I'll chime in... you might try the Cascade Fathead mic. Chinese components but assembled & sold by U.S. company. Many here have & use them, considered a good value at $195 direct from Cascade:

    http://www.cascademicrophones.com/cascade_FAT HEAD.html

    ~Jeff
     
    Paul likes this.
  12. Paul

    Paul Active Member

    Thanx, thatjeffguy. I appreciate the input. I'm not sure I'm going to be buying a new mic anytime soon as I've recently acquired some other new gear and the budget is tight at the moment. How about this? If you had only the following mics to mic a toy piano and could use them in any creative way you wanted (i.e. position, placement, etc.), what would you do?:

    RODE NT1 LDC
    AKG Perception 420 LDC
    Audio Technica AT4040 LDC
    Sterling S50 LDC
    3 AKG D5 dynamics
    AKG D330BT dynamic
    Audio Technica AT4041 Pencil SDC
    Sterling S30 Pencil SDC

    Ordinarily I would not ask such a question but I'm not going to have much time to field test all of these when I'm on location. I'm gonna have to use the mics I already know will sound good with the other elements in the songs and put what's leftover on a freaking toy piano. I guess I'm scared of over tones tearing through the whole mix.

    Anyone can jump in on this if they like. I'll take all the input I can get from any/everyone here. All of your suggestions have been well received and I love learning through this forum. Just want to put good energy out there. Anyway, thanx again!
     
  13. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I had to do a fun recording of one of those plinky-plinky toy pianos a few years ago. I thought I would record it in a dead acoustic environment using my Beyer M160/M130 MS combo and then "big it up" using reverb, delays and sub-harmonic effects. Nah, didn't work. In the end I captured it in an echoey bathroom using a Zoom H4N up close. Perfect result for the purpose. Saved time as well, as I was able to overlap the recording with other activities.
     
    dvdhawk likes this.
  14. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Bos:"...Saved time as well, as I was able to overlap the recording with other activities.
    "
    I hope that you were as directional as the Zoom...
     
    dvdhawk likes this.
  15. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    Paul, I'm not familiar with all of the mics you have listed, but on principle and theory I would choose a dynamic over a condenser for this application (given no ribbon choice). But I'm speaking from a studio environment perspective and a close miking approach. If this is for a live performance there are too many unknown variables which may affect the proper choice.
    ~Jeff
     
  16. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    So, Paul... don't you have some decent dynamic microphones like Electro-Voice RE 20's? AKG D112? Sennheiser MD 421's? SHURE SM-5-7-56-57-58's? AudioTechnocrat or FOSTEX ribbons?

    Or how about selling one of those and buy one of those Cascades Fathead's? They really cost no more than a SHURE, Beta 57/58.

    To not have at least one ribbon microphone doesn't say much for your technical knowledge of recording. It means that it's Woefully incomplete i.e. virtually clueless.

    Scotty said you had to have the proper tools to do the proper job. So I took my cues from Lieut. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott. Thanks to Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. It helped beam me up from ear to ear.

    I don't own any. Haven't played with any. But I've heard the Cascades Fathead, stock model. It sounds like a ribbon microphone is supposed to sound. Albeit with a bit of a boxy quality from the Chinese transformer. Which is easily corrected by lowering a couple db between 200-400 Hz and no problem. If you want the sound of one of those $1500 ribbon microphones? You order the Cascades Fathead, with the $100 Lundahl transformer option and voilĂ .

    So in answer to your question regarding your choice of microphones? Ummm, it's no, no, no, no, no and no. No, no and no. Or maybe just try sticking a nice heavy woolen winter sock over one of those? Maybe?


    Or try a carbon button microphone from a telephone? Those only have a response from approximately 300 Hz to 3000 Hz. Which was the American telephone frequency response standard. It also provides a cool sounding effect. They are known to be noisy but you could fix that with software, today. Sometimes the carbon granules will clump together, inside the microphone reducing the clarity. At which point you will hit the microphone with a screwdriver handle. And the clarity will instantly return for another few minutes. Which is what recording engineers did back in the early 1930s. But this is how you get the sound to represent the instrument, appropriately. It's not about the fidelity. It's about the sound. Nobody wants to hear a high-resolution, high definition recording of a little toy piano. The toy piano in and by itself is an effect as it's not really a performance instrument it's a toy and it should sound like a toy. So you use a carbon microphone to make it sound more like a toy. You use a ribbon microphone when you want it to sound like a toy piano sounding a little better. And the condenser microphone when you want a crappy sounding recording. I kid you not. It'll be difficult to listen to if you use a condenser microphone on that thing. That's all I'm saying. And I've likely already said too much, without tact?

    Personally, I like to the idea of the Beyer M-160 or M-130. But you don't need to stereo mic the little toy piano. You use the single microphone like one of those and record to Mono. There is no decent stereo out of one of those toys. So you don't present it that way as such. Why does everybody think they always need stereo microphones?

    So cool that the zoom did its thing in the bathroom. How did you teach it to do that?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     

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